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Battling the PTA Bullies at the School Bake Sale

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The subject line of the PTA e-mail demanded my immediate attention. When your son has been working after school to prepare props and sets for the variety show, there is no way to ignore a message entitled, “Variety Show May Be Cancelled”.

I opened the e-mail to read that because of the lack of parent volunteers, the variety show the kids had worked so hard to put together would most likely be canceled. We, the parents, had one last chance to volunteer and prevent this outcome. Volunteer opportunities included making costumes, selling goods at the bake sale, and preparing food. It continued with a warm note of appreciation to the “usual parent volunteers” and ended with a stern admonition to those of us who don’t volunteer.

I stared at the e-mail and sighed. Clicking reply, I typed in, “I can bring a bake sale item and man the table.” I hit send and ignored the calendar filled with work deadlines — both of the day job and the freelance variety, a baby shower, a meal for a new mom, Little League, and gymnastics. I squared my shoulders and consulted with my co-workers who graciously agreed to help me make, cut, and wrap Rice Krispy treats.

On the day of the bake sale, I arrived straight from work, feet in the flats I’d thrown in the front seat of my car earlier that morning and a daughter I’d picked up on my way. I carried my treats to a table piled high with baked goods, introduced myself, and was given a zippered pouch of change. My daughter Elizabeth and I rolled up our proverbial sleeves and got to work. Twenty minutes later we put our hands on our hips and looked with pride at the table. Bars and cookies were separated and arranged by flavor. Peanut-free items were staged in their own area and boxes advertising drinks were stacked neatly on the rolling cart. When I’m in charge of something, I go all in.

The PTA representative walked up in a rush. “I need that table,” she said, out of breath with urgency. With one arm she swept the perfectly stacked and arranged items from two tables to one, leaving them in a teetering pile. She and another woman pushed the table away without a backwards glance at the carnage.

My mouth dropped open and then snapped closed. Elizabeth and I went back to work at a frantic pace as audience members began to arrive. My smile never faltered as I used sales pitches learned in corporate training classes to sell the $1 goods. Another half hour passed and the same woman walked to my station. “I need this table,” she began, starting her arm sweep.

I held up my hand. “Stop. Back off from my table,” I looked at Elizabeth and added, “Please.” The woman stepped away, her own smile sliding down her face as she looked at me.

“I need it for the other food.”

“You can wait two minutes and I’ll have it ready for you,” I said with a smile. Working quickly, Elizabeth and I re-arranged, yet again, our table, moving it to a table half. The woman stared at us for a moment before walking to the waters and grabbing bottles. Elizabeth whispered, “Mama…”

I looked over at the mess being made and suggested, “If you want to move some of those waters, Elizabeth will help you. She worked really hard to arrange them with all their labels facing out.”

The woman stared at the two of us.

I smiled, still moving cookies. “I’m afraid we’re a little OCD,” I said, hoping to prevent complete PTA social suicide.

She nodded a little, the look on her face making me think it was too late. From the corner of my eye, I saw other moms back slowly away. I finished and pushed the table towards the woman while Elizabeth ferried waters to the cooler.

I don’t think I’ll be asked to volunteer again.

Photo: Getty